Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5771 Retrospective III (or, the "segula" of the Segol)

The shul where I pray on Shabbos Kodesh goes according to the Nusach Ashkenaz/Lithuanian minhagim (customs), pronunciations, and liturgical order. As can be expected, there are numerous differences (some minor, some more significant) from the Nusach Sefard litrugy. One of those differences was showcased when we commenced adding in the words of praise "He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain descend," into the Amidah prayer. These words are inserted into the prayer for the duration of the period between Shmini Atzeret and Pesach; typically, this is the rainy season for most regions - in the Holy Land, it's practically the only time the country gets any rain.

One of the differences is that Nusach Ashkenaz inserts this prayer during this time period, but the period between Pesach and Sukkot has nothing added in. Nusach Sefard, however, inserts this praise as an alternative to the praise of "He makes the dew descend," (a smaller subset within  Nusach Sefard says this along with the prefacing "he makes the wind blow..." effectively switching "dew" and "rain". This is my own nusach.) which is used during the season between Pesach and Sukkot.

Yet another difference which was emphasized this year during the hakafot was the pronunciation of the hebrew word for "rain". The Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, so we rely on vowelization points (called nekudot; literally, "points") to illustrate how certain words are pronounced. With one subtle change between nekudot, the meaning and nuance of a word can change entirely, including differences in tense, active/passive, etc. The Ashkenaz pronounce the Hebrew word for "rain" as Gashem (Guh-shem), whereas the Sefard pronunciation is Geshem (Geh-shem).

In Hebrew, the word appears as "גשם"; the nekudot appear under the Gimmel and Shin. For Nusach Ashkenaz, the vowelizations are kometz (Kuh-metz, affecting the uh sound) and segol (Seh-goal, providing the eh sound), respectively. Nusach Sefard on the other hand provides a double segol to account for the pronunciation.

While I'm not familiar with all the significance of the various nekudot, their interplay and underlying themes, I have seen some things about the segol that come up at different points of the year. For example, there are several ways to arrange the items on the seder plate for Pesach. The Vilna Gaon OBM dictates that the items should be set in a clockwise order in order to ensure that we don't pass over one mitzvah for the sake of fulfilling another. The Ba'al HaTanya describes the setup of the plate in such a way that the items on the plate are arranged in a formation that shows two segols stacked one atop another.

The particular significance of the double segol (i.e. one after another, or juxtaposed in some way) is the fact that the Hebrew word Chesed (roughly translated as "loving-kindness") is spelled with two segols. Therefore, anything with the double segol has an undertone of chesed, as it were - a connotation that we should specifically request for an outpouring of kindness from Above. This can be applied here, as well. Rain is beyond our control; it is a physical manifestation of God's kindness. With the presence of rain we cannot grow crops, wash away grime and spent topsoil, etc. Perhaps we can say that the underlying reason for pronouncing it as geshem is because of this connection to chesed.

As I was discussing this idea with Reb Micha during the chag, another idea occurred to me. On a deeper level, we can theorize that the double segol alludes to the Etz Chaim representation of the Sefirot, specifically the set up of CHaBaD (Chochma Binah Da'at) and ChaGaT (Chesed Gevura Tifferet), where the Intellectual sefirot (the Mochin) are reflected by the Higher Emotional sefirot (the Middot) to portray how the Infinite Light (Ohr Ein Sof) is filtered down to our realm of existence...

Obviously, these things are way beyond my comprehension, but based on the little that I know, this thought struck me. Does anyone know if this is a true connection or is it my imagination?


micha said...

As for the seder plate, see the 3 diagrams I made on page 1 of the Toras Aish Hagaddah.

The Ari's arrangement (the one you were probably taught in day school) IS intentionally the eitz chaim. That's R' Chaim Vital - so barukh shekivanta! The two segol's description might be the Baal haTanya's chiddush; but the eitz chaim was the original description.

The Vilna Gaon's order is NOT clockwise, though. Rather, it's a variant on the Rama's theme, placing that which you use first in front. Surprisingly, maror isn't on the ke'ara, I don't know why, nor how the child is expected to see the maror before Mah Nishtanah.

The problem I raised on Yom Tov is not with this issue in particular, but the whole significance qabbalah gives to the shapes of the tenu'os. The markings we use today -- both niqud and trop -- were inventions of the Baalei Mesorah of Teveriah, nearly all of whom were Qaraites rather than gedolei mesorah interested in Qabbalistic symbolisms.

There were two other systems, which even group the sounds differently. And I think Rashi's nomeclature for the tenu'os reflects that used in Bavel; e.g. "patach qatan" for segol -- and in their niqud, one shape was used for both sounds! (Even assuming they pronounced those sounds differently from each other in Bavel. But that's a topic for another Shabbos morning...) What is relevent is that notice that in Rashi's day, it still wasn't even commonly accepted to call the vowel in question a "segol"!


Shmuel said...

Micha - I though it was Karpas that was missing from the Gaon's plate. Marror is on the top right corner.

As for the ta'amei haKra'ah, I was under the impression that there were at least two different sets dating back at least as far as the Yerushalmi, with the Keter Aram Zoba (the Aleppan Codex) being the definitive source for the trop and nikkud that we use today, as recorded by the RaMBaM on his way to the Holy Land.

With that said, even if the emphasis was not originally based in Kabbalistic intent, as we say "Minhag Yisrael Torah" - very often minhag reflects something higher, tapping into some deep esoteric secret that is beyond quantification and is accepted by all...

micha said...

Before the Keter, there were three regions where baalei mesorah got together and invented notation: Teveriah, Southern EY (Yerushalmis always had to be different), and Bavel.

Babylonian niqud is still used in Teimani writing of Aramaic. (And many of their kehilloth still lein with Targum, so it's in constant use. See this snippet from the beginning of Bereishis.)

As for "tappping into deep esoteric secrets"... There is an irony in HQBH using Qaraim to reveal Qabbalah to us. They are about as far from Qabbalah as any school of Jews ever have been (except maybe the Tzeduqim).


Shmuel said...

"There is an irony in HQBH using Qaraim to reveal Qabbalah to us."

Or a poetic justice, of sorts.